Michael Clayton comes on so slowly that, were this not a George
Clooney movie, you might be tempted to bolt. But stick around and you get
rewarded with some of the year's most intense performances, including from
Clooney himself, as a "fixer" for a law-firm that specializes in defending huge
corporations against lawsuits.
At the beginning of the movie, Clayton is asked to clean up after a fellow
lawyer, Arthur, who has a nervous breakdown while taking a deposition defending
a shady agricultural conglomerate, U/North, from a class-action lawsuit. But
Michael eventually finds out that at least some of the stuff that Arthur (a
wonderful, if a bit over the top Tom Wilkinson) mentions may not be the
ravings of a madman: in the U/North case files, he finds evidence of the
company's wrongdoing, which pits him against the law firm's chief counsel
(Tilda Swinton, who was born to play anal-retentives)—and his own
conscience. Clayton, a former gambling addict who owes $75,000 to loan sharks,
must decide whether to do the latest fix and keep his job or listen to his
conscience and fight for the little people.
As an essentially good man fighting for his soul, Clooney turns in a
performance that's a slow-burn thing of beauty. He never lets you see him sweat,
but you can sense the wheels turning in his head, and even if it's never really
in doubt what he's going to do (Clooney's no bad guy!), he makes you feel every
inch of Clayton's struggle. That restraint and emotion makes his performance,
and the movie itself, somewhat of a welcome throwback at a time when filmmakers
bank on big, showy performances, endless car chases and explosion after
explosion to get their point across.